New recruit Connor Watson will carry an ongoing ankle cartilage problem into the season but Newcastle Knights high performance staff say they are managing the issue and are confident it will have no impact on his performance.
Watson will this week be named in the halves alongside Mitchell Pearce for Saturday night’s trial against Parramatta at Maitland and only has to get through the game unscathed to win the battle for the number six jumper for the season-opener against Manly on March 9.
So important has the former Roosters’ utility become to the new-look Knights, coach Nathan Brown has tweaked the way the team will attack this season to make full use of his explosive running game.
Not surprisingly, his ankle issue, which he has carried for the past 18 months and can potentially flare up at any time, is being closely monitored by staff with damaged articular cartilage occasionally “catching” in his ankle, causing pain and restricting movement.
“It is nothing he is not coping with,” Knights high performance boss Tony Ayoub said. “He’s going well but he is a young bloke and we just want to make sure we manage him right.
“Since he has been here, it has improved quite a lot and we have really focused on getting his range of movement up.
“The pain and catching that he occasionally gets is not there anywhere near as much and we are pretty confident he is going to manage it pretty well and not have an issue with it.
“But again, we want to think long term. He is a young bloke and we want to make sure we are doing the right thing by him. We have minimised the amount of km’s he does and lightened his loads a bit by making sure it is quality rather than quantity.”
Ayoub said the club was aware of the issue when Watson was signed and did not believe surgery in the off-season was necessary.
“We might look at it at the end of the season depending on how things go but we’ll just continue to monitor it at this stage,” Ayoub said.
“He certainly has a stiffer ankle than the other side so that is a bit of a concern for us but we’ll continue to concentrate on improving his range.
“The good thing with Connor is he works hard on it himself. He is forever in the physio room just getting maintenance treatment even when it is good.”
Meanwhile, decisions about whether forwards Mitch Barnett and Chris Heighington play in the Eels trial will be made this week.
Heighington missed last Friday’s intra-club trial with a slight hamstring strain while Barnett is still being monitored after off-season shoulder surgery.
“We’ll have a look at how they are before making a decision but we won’t be taking any risks,” Ayoub said.